Walking the Corridor: Finding PR Stories Where Nobody’s Looking

When acting in a PR capacity, many people struggle with the problem of finding stories. Every organization wants press – but what strikes you as newsworthy about your operation might not seem quite so fresh to a journalist. Where, then, do you find something to pitch?

A very fuzzy journalist

A very fuzzy journalist

One option, of course, is to make the story happen yourself. If nothing new is going on, think of the kind of story you’d like to read and guide the organization toward it. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But the best kinds of stories are the ones that serve themselves up organically – complete and irresistible, like catnip for journalists, and never where you expect to find them.

Just because the best stories happen by accident doesn’t mean you’ll find them by accident, though. Our colleague Roberta makes a point of visiting clients as often as possible, learning everyone’s name from the reception room to the boardroom, and stopping to chat. She calls it “walking the corridor.”

Even if it’s easier and more convenient to conduct all your business over the phone or via email, those intentional channels only bring you the first kind of story: the ones that you and your client expect. The real gold only ever comes to you when you’re not (appearing like you are) looking for it. It’s like keeping your eyes in a softer focus to look for new patterns, or, as Ann Handley puts it, “seeing content moments everywhere.” 

From the New York Daily News

From the New York Daily News

One of Roberta’s stories, for example, was a grade-A “people story” about a resident at a client’s elder care facility. A veteran of World War II, this gentleman took public transit by himself into Manhattan at the ripe old age of 90, in his old uniform, to help out at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Incredibly, nobody knew about it until he mentioned it to Roberta while she was on-site! He simply never thought to tell anyone, because he wasn’t involved in the traditional PR loop – Roberta just happened to be there when he shared the story of his experiences. It ended up widely reported and shared.

Of course, many trips don’t include such wonderful gifts of stories wrapped up with bows. They’re a bonus, not an expectation, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. Besides, you can never have too many friends. So the next time you’re stuck for a story, don’t go back to the drawing board – walk the corridor and chat with the folks at the water cooler instead.

Analog Social Media: The Power of a Hand-Written Note

On my desk is a piece of robin’s egg blue stationery. It’s a thank-you note from a former student who asked me to help her with her job search. I keep it in clear view as an unremitting reminder to help her as soon as I can. I have many papers on my desk that accumulate throughout the day – white paper, beige paper, glossy and flat stock, all printed neatly and clearly. Admittedly, there is a feeling of accomplishment as the pile dwindles to nothing by the end of the day. Yet her note remains. This particular letter is special. It is blue and it is handwritten.

hand-written noteWould I have read an email from my student? Yes, of course I would. While there is an immediacy to email, it doesn’t linger. Once read, I’d jot a note in my planner and move on to the next task. The message wouldn’t just sit there on my desk, subtly demanding action.

Neither do most of the items that come in the mail – bills, circulars, trade publications, credit card offers and so on. There are also those donation asks with fake handwriting printed on them, just to trick you into looking long enough to notice. All of us receive too much email and junk mail – just imagine how much the media, foundations, industry leaders and business owners receive.

On top of all of this noise and bustle, voicemail, text messages, Facebook posts, Linked In requests, Twitter and RSS feeds form a stimulus shield that can make it very difficult to get someone’s attention, as we discussed in our last blog entry. Only around 20 to 40% of emails are ever even opened.

When you really need to captivate, some neat penmanship on crisp cardstock or applying a highlighter on selected lines and a few Post-its in your annual report can often do the trick. But there really isn’t anything that beats a personal, handwritten note.

Your target audience, whether it’s a donor, trustee or a favorite aunt, will definitely open one – and these days, it can feel almost novel and nostalgic to even tear open a card-shaped envelope. A handwritten note shows that you took the time and effort to share with them. Your audience will understand that you wrote the note specifically for them because they personally are your priority. It’s flattering to feel important.

The robin’s egg stationery is still sitting there. It’s only been a few days, but every time I look at it, I’m reminded that I can help this student. Her note makes me want to react. She’s taken the time to let me know of her appreciation and that she doesn’t want to be forgotten. The least I can do is to make sure I don’t.